Cannes and gowns

A film festival for artistic cinema under the train of dresses.

Cannes Film Festival, 1954, this year Indian movie Do Bigha Zameen won Palme d’Or (Grand Prize)

A day left for the 2017 Cannes film festival to see its grand conclusion, before it leaves us craving for puffed up celebrity looks for a whole year. For times to come, we will keep revisiting the “Top Indian stories from Cannes 2017” and reinstate our national pride endorsed solely by the virtue of swirling gowns and glamorous existence of our commercial cinema actresses. Rightly so, because for those who are learning about Cannes solely through popular media articles it is but natural to mistake the film festival for a fashion week or a carnival for mainstream cinema.

Contrarily, Cannes for decades, has been a platform dedicated to artistic cinema across countries to showcase their quality and receive critical acclaim. India’s neo-realistic or parallel cinema has featured in this festival time and again as award winners, like Chetan Anand’s Neecha Nagar (1946), Bimal Roy’s Do Bigha Zameen (1954), Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali (1957), Mrinal Sen’s Kharij (1982), Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay (1988), Murali Nair’s Marana Simhasan (1999) to the most recent Masaan in 2015. Even outside the competition the kind of movies that have been screened at Cannes have been picks from the parallel cinema of our country, be it Udaan (2010), Gangs of Wasseypur (2012), The Lunchbox (2013) or Raman Raghav (2016). It could be safely stated that India’s mainstream commercial cinema has no specific relevance at least to this festival. Ironically, on the this one occasion where the art of cinema is the essence of celebrations, it is the actresses from the mainstream Bollywood making the headlines.

A still from Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali, 1955

In this razzle-dazzle, majority of public turns blind to the artistic feat of Indian cinema. Although this year none of the feature films from India made it to the Cannes, short films such as Afternoon Clouds by Payal Kapadia got nominated in the Cinefondation category and “All I Want” directed by Venika Mitra, won at Beyond Borders Diversity of Cannes Short Film Showcase. These achievements too are necessary to be known and celebrated to appreciate talented independent filmmakers and low-budget realistic genre of movies. In terms of commercial success, the gap between the big budget movies and off beat cinema has widened as compared to the golden era of Indian cinema (1940s-1960s). Today, the cinema of social significance, artistic sincerity presenting a modern humanist perspective is not the same as commercially successful cinema which enjoys the maximum attention of the Indian audiences. And hence, many of such gems of Indian artistic cinema are left undiscovered by the masses. The age old legends like Kumar Sahani, Mani Kaul, Saeed Mirza, Shyam Benegal, Ketan Mehta would still surprisingly be unknown to a lot of us. Let alone the upcoming filmmakers and writers of their league and their underutilized cinematic projects which would remain unappreciated unless they manage to feature in conventional cinema or mass market entertainment which they are least likely to. Meanwhile, our definition of Indian cinema would primarily remain a product of commercial entertainment showcased in movie theaters and on television.

An event such as Cannes is one of the few opportunities for such filmmakers to bring home the accolades received on an international stage and make wider room for the artists who are driven by neorealism. But then keywords like, “Sonam Kapoor”, “Deepika Padukone”, “Aishwarya Rai”, no matter how irrelevant to the larger picture, get more clicks than India’s only nomination or an award winning movie without a movie star. And what’s the point of writing a media article if it fails to attracts enough eyeballs. Therefore, begins the vicious cycle of dumbing down the crowd that likes to feed on dumb content! Who would then wait till the next Cannes for the next set of gowns to walk the red carpet, stifling the independent cinema of this country under their train.